President Obama Praises Local Leader in Calls for Religious Tolerance


President Barack Obama on Wednesday visited a mosque for the first time during his presidency to discuss Islamic relations and to combat growing anti-Muslim rhetoric in the country.

Reciting phrases from the Quran and embracing the role and history of Muslims in the U.S., the president asked Americans not to be "bystanders of bigotry," and reject politicians who manipulate prejudice, targeting people based on religion.

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“Let me say as clearly as I can as president of the United States: you fit right here,” Obama said. “You’re right where you belong. You’re part of America too. You’re not Muslim or American. You’re Muslim and American.”

Joining us tonight is Rami Nashashibi, the executive director of the Chicago-based Inner-City Muslim Action Network. He was at the mosque Obama visited and was mentioned by name in the president’s speech during Thursday's national prayer breakfast. Nashashibi joins us to discuss Muslim relations and to share his story.

Obama shares Nashashibi's story

During Thursday's national prayer breakfast, Obama recounted a story about how Nashashibi was afraid to pray in Chicago's Marquette Park with his children the day after the San Bernadino shooting. Nashashibi’s daughter asked him why he wasn’t praying.

“And he thought of all the times he had told her the story of the day that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Robert Marx and 700 other people marched to that very same park, enduring hatred and bigotry, dodging rocks and bottles and hateful words in order to challenge Chicago housing segregation, and to ask America to live up to our highest ideals,” Obama said.

“And so at that moment, drawing from the courage of men of different religions, of a different time, Rami refused to teach his children to be afraid," Obama said. "Instead, he taught them to be a part of that legacy of faith and good conscience ... And he put down his rug and he prayed."

“I can’t imagine a better expression of the peaceful spirit of Islam than when a Muslim father filled with fear drew from an example of a Baptist preacher and a Jewish rabbi to teach his children what God demands,” Obama said.

For Nashishibi, the moment was about demonstrating something for his children.

“I thought about the spiritual courage that people have to summon,” Nashashibi said.

He said he knew the president was planning on sharing his experience, but he was surprised the degree to which the story was recounted.

“I certainly did not think he would recite the story completely in that context,” Nashashibi said.

Nashashibi said that instances of hateful rhetoric and acts of discrimination have been a painful reality for the Muslim community.

“Particularly American Muslim women [who wear the hijab] have felt more vulnerable in certain cases, but … I think the reality is that there are also many Americans, particularly from communities who are drawing from a legacy of fighting hatred, fighting bigotry, fighting racism, who have also rallied with Muslims to call for a better vision, a vision for a better America, a better world.”


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Obama speaks at a U.S. mosque on Wednesday


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